The shortage of car audio head units has intensified since January, forcing distributors to adjust.
Some are buying more containers of subwoofers and amplifiers and beefing up their Tier 2 offerings of head units (since tier 1 decks are mostly impossible to get).
As of late last year, some distributors chipped in with suppliers to cover the cost of air shipping radios to the US, but now there’s very little tier 1 head units produced to air ship, they said.
When a radio from a top brand comes in to SSR Distributors, based in Houston, it allocates one head unit per [retail] customer and the customer must have placed $400 to $500 order on another product. “It’s tough, but that’s where we’re at,” said Amir Dhahani.
“We literally have more on order than we have in stock and we have a lot in stock. If it all showed up now, I don’t even know where we’d have room to put it,” said Ed Weber of Sound Distributors, Tukwilla, WA.
In the past, if you placed a large order with a vendor, you would ask for a discount. “Now we buy as much as we can without a discount…The manufacturers don’t even entertain it now. I get where they are coming from. I’m the same with my customers. I’m going to sell it today anyway,” Weber added.
“I have the lowest inventory I’ve had in ten years,” said Joe Hanson of AVR Distributing, Marietta, GA. “Everything is pre-sold to our customers…it’s a unique way of doing business.”
Dave Elkin of DOW Technologies said, “Some vendors came to us to share air freight. We worked with several of them to share the air freight cost. We took lighter margins on some of the product. We did that two or three times.” But now there is not enough head units to air ship. That said, DOW picked up Planet Audio receivers to help fill in the gaps.
The Wholesale House is ordering more containers of woofers, amplifiers and subwoofer boxes this year. But, “The head units are just not available for purchase,” said Mark Yoder, President of TWH.
More than one distributor said investing in containers is getting more difficult because it’s hard to forecast demand 5 or 6 months out, and that is how long it takes now to get a container shipment to your door. Prior to the pandemic the lead time was 60 to 100 days.
Like many distributors SSR Distributors has boosted its orders with Tier 2 head unit brands. It offers a 30 day window when retailers can return the product, as some dealers are reluctant to try the brands. “It got them to try it out,” said Dhahani. “Guys were skeptical, especially trying their CarPlay radios. But they see it works and they are willing to buy more.” he said.
Even local shipping has become unreliable. Around the fall of last year, after UPS and other shippers weren’t picking up orders when promised, Sound Distributors purchased its own 19-foot delivery truck for shipping orders.